John Espirian Discusses the Importance of Technical Writing in Business

Hello and welcome to today’s interview with the wonderful John Espirian. John is an award winning freelance technical writer based in South Wales of the UK. He’s the guy you go to when you need help producing simple, clear, and elegant content. He’s also a super nerd which makes him instantly cool in my world. I’m sure you’ll agree.

 

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Write simple, helpful content, directed at one person. ~ @Espirian (Click To Tweet)

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••❥ LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/johnespirian

 

 

:// Transcription:

 

Chloë:

Hi John, welcome to the podcast. Thank you so much for being here. How are you?

John:

I’m very well Chloe. Thank you for inviting me. It’s my first video podcast. I know I’m in good hands, and really delighted to be here.

Chloë:

Wow! How exciting. I feel honored to be your first. Hopefully I do a good job.

John:

I’m sure you will.

Chloë:

You’re a technical writer. I had never heard of technical writer before we met. Could you maybe explain what that exactly is?

John:

Yeah, sure.

Chloë:

Also, how it impacts business because that’s really what we’re interested in, right?

John:

Most people have heard of copywriters. They’re the people that sell things and that influence people to take actions, so buy products, support political campaigns, support charities, and that sort of thing. A technical writer would work to inform and educate the audience. They’ll explain how products work. They’ll write support manuals, help guides, and they’ll get into things like legal, HR, and that kind of thing as well.

My focus isn’t on selling a product, but it is on representing a brand with showing how their products and services work. It’s mainly aimed at existing customers. What I do is, give them the information and it will help them use the products better, stay as loyal customers, become brand advocates and that sort of thing. Usually, the technical part of it is because often we’re explaining in a step-by-step way. It might be IT. It might be anything to do with computers. It might be some other technical process. That’s where the technical comes in.

Chloë:

That makes a lot of sense. It’s interesting because communication is so important in business, in every single thing that we do. Usually when systems breakdown, either within a business or when you talk with your customers and things, it is because their communication isn’t always the clearest.

John:

Yes.

Chloë:

Of course, while your work isn’t technically on selling, you could tie it to customer value and customer retention, which is huge. It’s the biggest thing. Far easier to retain a customer than it is to acquire a new one. It’s so important.

John:

You’re absolutely right. I think a lot of times, you invest all this money in your sales funnel and then you get a customer, and the experience and documentation that they look at is terrible. It’s like you were talking to [inaudible 00:03:29] the other day. Brand identity has to go everywhere, right throughout your business. It’s not just on the front screen. It’s everywhere. That includes your support documentation. For me, it’s all about understanding the brand, working with a tone of voice, and trying to put that into the documentations I create. A lot of technical writing is quite boring, but I try to put a bit of personality into it. If a brand has it’s own identity, that absolutely has to come out in the voice of the technical documents. If you look at people like Mailchimp and Buffer, they do fantastic work with their documents. You can tell that it’s all the same thing, whereas you don’t often get that with other brands.

Chloë:

Yeah. That’s very true. Buffer is definitely one of my favourite companies in the world for their branding, their transparency, their communication, all of that. You’re spot on. One of the words that I’m going to pick on is experience. I think that that’s the biggest thing. I’ve done a few of these podcasts now and the thing that seems to come up in every single one is it’s about the experience that you’re providing your customer. Ultimately, that’s going to make or break your business.

I think it’s really interesting. When I think of technical how-to’s and things, I think of me trying to put together DIY furniture or set up something, and I never read the instructions because I don’t understand them. They make me feel stupid. I don’t want to feel stupid as a customer. I don’t want to feel dumb like I can’t do something.

John:

That’s absolutely right. That’s why I’m branching out into not just writing, but also producing screen-casts. I’ll produce short thirty second or one minute videos that explain how to do processes and my customers are finding that that’s a good way of reaching people. People don’t want to necessarily sit down and read a wall of text. I don’t think anyone wants to do that anymore. I think the future is visual communication. With the advent of things like the iPhone, no user manual. It’s all intuitive, well designed, and if you do need some help, it’s usually pretty easy to go through the steps. That’s what I’m trying to do a bit more of these days, visual communication.

Chloë:

That’s wonderful. You’re absolutely right. I don’t know. I’ve never once been able to find the verification for this stat, but it does seem to get posted everywhere. We consume images 60,000 times faster than text.

John:

Yup.

Chloë:

Video is obviously a lot more captivating as well. To be able to just see something, I think being able to see it in front of you, understand it step by step, and help someone go through it can make a huge difference.

John:

Yeah. That’s right.

Chloë:

Do you think it’s difficult? I can imagine you working with very different companies. You’re not focused on one thing if you’re working for different businesses. Do you find that hard?

John:

That’s where a lot of the skill of the technical writer comes in is to try and understand the business and do the research to kind of become the ideal user, and then write in their language. I do a lot of work to understand who it is that I’m writing for. What kind of content they’re going to consume most easily. That takes a lot of time. That’s the whole research iceberg that’s under the water that a lot of people don’t think of when they say can you write 500 words on so and so. Well, yes, but the writing is really the tip of the iceberg. It’s the research, the understanding, and thinking about how to explain things in the best way possible. That’s the thing that takes the time. That’s the thing that takes the expertise.

Yeah, it’s not easy and that’s why not everyone is suited to be a writer, I guess. I come from a quality assurance background so I’m always about making the customer process as easy as possible. I guess, it’s naturally led to me being able to explain things to other quite well, I hope.

Chloë:

Yeah, it’s a great skill to have. It’s like you were saying, the market research, it tends to come back to that knowing your customer. Being able to not just communicate and share your message, but share it in a way that they can understand and really resonate with. It’s huge. It’s hugely valuable. What do you think are the biggest mistakes that you see from small businesses, mainly online but just in general as well when it comes to the writing?

John:

The number one mistake is always not understanding your audience and what they need. I guess we’ve already talked about that. That is everywhere I go. I’ll speak to a new customer and I’ll ask them who is your ideal audience. It’s very hard for them to pin that down, so we have to go through a kind of question and answer process to try and work out exactly who we’re writing for, then we try to target the documents at that one person. Make them feel as if we’re writing directly to them. That’s the number one mistake that people make.

Also, people try to use complex language. Sometimes, you try to use jargon to make you sound more important then you are, but the fact of the matter is nobody ever complained that some piece of text was too easy to read. The simpler you make it, the more it will be appreciated. Also, just be more human in your communications. Yes, we’re businesses, but we’re all people at the end of the day. If you can make some content simple to understand and build some kind of empathy, even in technical documentation, it can be done, that is the way to get successful documents in my opinion.

Chloë:

Yeah. That’s huge. Just be human. It’s huge. I know that we’re both follower and fans of Mark Schaeffer and he says this all the time. It really is true. I don’t understand why we do this because we all seem to do it at some point. We forget that we’re all just people and we’re just communicating to other people. We’re all users and consumers as well. We’re very good at knowing what we like, what we don’t like, and complaining when we’re on the other side of it, but not considering that as a business. Again, I guess that comes back to the customer experience as well, and making it as simple and easy to follow as we can. It’s like you said, simple is good. Simple isn’t bad.

John:

Absolutely. Just to piggyback on something that Cole said in your last interview, just be more helpful as well. The best brands will just go out of their way to help their customers. Cut out the fluff. Cut out the self promotion. Just get to the point. People don’t have time to sit and read loads and loads of content. Be helpful and bring that impact straight away and you will get more loyalty out of it. There’s a financial reward to doing this. It’s just a good thing to do anyway.

Chloë:

Absolutely. I think, as well, if it’s really clear whether you are doing copy editing or technical writing, or anything, if it’s clear, then you’re going to get your audience to take action because they understand what that is. Sometimes, it can be hard to see when it’s diluted in a lot of text. It can be a little bit confusing.

With that in mind, what would you suggest as maybe one to three action steps that small businesses could take to enhance their writing from today, from watching this? I know that sometimes the problem is they don’t know how. People know I need to share this message but I don’t know how to do it. What would suggest are one to three action steps?

John:

The first thing I would always do is just do a brain dump of all of the content you want to get out there, no filter at all. Just write down everything you want to say to your customers, then start a process of just ruthlessly cutting out the fluff, cutting out the fat, leaving the core message. If you just have 30 seconds to tell people what you want to say, what would that thing be. Keep it short, keep it simple, no big words, most importantly, think carefully about who your customer is and the kind of language that is going to appeal to them.

I call it [inaudible 00:12:34] traits. I’ve written a blog post about this. We don’t just look at normal demographics but we really try and go deep into who is reading the content. Is it a male? Is it a female? What are they called? How many kids do they have? What magazines do they subscribe to? Get into their head and you will then find the words that will reach them. If you have difficulty doing that, that’s where you bring in a professional editor, a professional writer who can support your brand and really make it shine and that can make the difference in terms of sales, brand loyalty, brand advocacy, and all the good things that you want to achieve.

Chloë:

Love that. So true. I love that you picked on the point of going really deep with your audience. It’s not just geographics and demographics, you’ve got to get the psycho-graphics. Your audience uses a certain type of language and the only way that you know that and understand that … You can’t find that information by looking at general statistics. Like you said, you have to go deep with that research and truly understand your audience because then you’ll find the words or hire someone who can help you with that. Love that.

If you had to sum up in a tweet of all, I know that’s really difficult, what would it be?

John:

I would say … 140 characters. Write simple, helpful content, directed at one person.

Chloë:

Love it. Love that. It’s funny how you can do that and reach millions when you do that, when you speak to one person. It’s like something Marie Farley always says, if you’re talking to everyone, you’re talking to no one. Talk to that one person.

John:

Absolutely right.

Chloë:

Thank you so much, first of all. Thank you so so much for taking the time to go through this interview. I do, of course, have one last question because you brand yourself as a super nerd, which means that I know you must have thought about this one question. If you had a super hero name, what would it be and what would your super power be, if you’ve thought of that, which I’m sure you’ve thought of your super power.

John:

Wow. I’m not sure what my super hero name would be but I’d love to be able to travel through time. I would love to be able to go to the start of the universe, the end of the universe, and any point in between. If we ever crack that, I’m on board.

Chloë:

That would be awesome. You know what, when I was younger … I don’t know why but for some reason, there’s a little part of me that still believes that … I used to think there was certain doors … You could just be walking along a street and there would be certain doors you could open up, you could walk inside, and be in another part of the world in seconds. I don’t know why I believed that but a little part of me still hopes it’s true.

John:

There’s a short story for you right there.

Chloë:

It is crazy. Thank you so much John. I know that people watching this are going to be like “That John guy, he’s kind of awesome and I really want to connect with him.” How do I do that?

John:

I’m blessed with a very unusual surname so I’m quite easy to find. It’s Espirian everywhere, so that’s Espirian and I’m on twitter. That’s my favourite network but you can find me on LinkedIn, Facebook, my website, and blog. Come check me out. I will be as friendly and helpful as I can be. Can’t wait to meet you all.

Chloë:

I have to say, John is one of the best people in the world when it comes to social media, engaging, caring, and showing what it truly represents. You’re putting the social in social media. Love that. Everyone should go and connect with John. Also, we will link that blog post that you mentioned as well because I think that would be super helpful. Thank you so much John. I really really enjoy speaking with you. You shared so much incredible value. Hopefully, we’ll speak again soon.

John:

Fabulous Chloe. Thanks a lot for inviting me. It’s been a real pleasure.

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